A tangy Mexican salad with lots of color and texture, Quick Nopalitos (Cactus) Salad with Citrus Pomegranate Vinaigrette is loaded with flavor and nutrients, and promises to be an interesting addition to your salad repertoire… Will you dare try it?
I love nopalitos (cactus)! Have you seen any of my previous nopales/nopalitos recipes (Vegetarian Tostadas with Black Beans and Nopalitos, Nopalitos and Red Chile Rice Bowls, Low Carb Mexican Cauliflower Rice Bowls)?
My previous recipes specify fresh nopales (cactus pads if you’re unfamiliar with the ingredient). This Quick Nopalitos (Cactus) Salad with Roasted Peppers and Cotija uses a couple of shortcuts to get it on the table in about 15 minutes +/-!
Nopal/Nopales/Nopalitos: What’s the Deal?
So, the terminology can be confusing! “Nopal” is the Spanish word for Opuntia (aka prickly pear cactus). “Nopales” is the pad of the nopal, and is a “vegetable.” “Nopalitos” is the name for a dish made with “nopales.” Got it?
Nopales contain good amounts of important vitamins and minerals – including vitamins A, B6, C, K, and calcium, potassium, magnesium, and manganese. The high fiber content aids in digestion, and helps the body to feel full (aiding in weight loss). For more on the health benefits of nopales, see 11 Impressive Benefits of Nopales.
Quick Nopalitos (Cactus) Salad with Citrus-Pomegranate Vinaigrette makes a great side dish for Instant Pot Mexican Pulled Pork. Add some tasty Mexican Cilantro Rice to round out the meal! It is also perfect as a light lunch wrapped in a tortilla. Use a slotted spoon to leave the vinaigrette behind…
Making Quick Nopalitos (Cactus) Salad with Citrus-Pomegranate Vinaigrette
NOTE: Make sure your nopales are packed in brine rather than vinegar. Drain and rinse the nopales thoroughly. Don’t skip this step! Add to an appropriately sized salad bowl.
Pat dry your roasted peppers (piquillo or roasted red bell peppers). Slice them into manageable pieces, and add to your salad bowl.
Thin slice half of a red onion (shallots work too). Add to the bowl.
Crumble the cotija. Before you add it to the bowl, be sure to reserve a bit for garnish. Don’t we love beautiful, colorful food?
Using about 1 cup of cilantro (avoiding stems), chop and add it to the salad bowl. Again, reserve some for garnish!
Lastly, add all of the citrus vinaigrette ingredients to a mason jar or shaker. Shake vigorously to combine. Taste for salt and pepper. If you want a little less tang to your vinaigrette, add a little honey or agave nectar. We like it “as is.”
Pour the vinaigrette over the salad, toss to combine, and garnish with the cotija and chopped cilantro. Yes, it’s that simple!
P.S. If you prefer to use fresh (and can find it), simply cut it into bite sized strips, and boil it 15-20 to release the gelatinous substance. Drain, and use as you would prepared nopales.
- 1 -27 ounce jar natural nopalitos in brine, rinsed and drained
- 4 piquillo or roasted red peppers (see notes)
- 1/2 red onion, very thinly sliced
- 1 small bunch cilantro leaves, chopped
- 2 ounces cotija, crumbled (see notes)
- 1/2 blood orange, zest and juice (tangerine, orange)
- 1 lemon, zest and juice
- 1 lime, zest and juice
- 1 tablespoon sherry (or other good) vinegar (see notes)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses (optional, see notes)
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- fresh ground pepper
- Combine salad ingredients in a medium salad bowl. (Be sure to reserve some cheese and cilantro for garnishing).
- Add all vinaigrette ingredients (minus salt and pepper). Shake vigorously.
- Add salt and pepper, and taste. If you want a little less tang, add a bit of honey or agave nectar.
- Toss salad with the vinaigrette. Garnish with cotija and cilantro.
I keep a jar of piquillo peppers in my fridge for quick dishes like this one. You can certainly sub roasted red bell peppers or even rocoto pepper (they're hot!). If I have lots of time, I like to char my own fresh peppers, but then the recipe isn't "quick!"
Cilantro bunches vary in size, we use about 1 cup of leaves and then chop (which reduces volume). Reserve some for garnish.
Reserve a bit of cheese for garnish. You can substitute a fresh cheese like queso fresco, but we like cotija with its salty bite.
I usually use sherry vinegar, but white wine vinegar and good apple cider vinegar are good as well.
Pomegranate molasses can be found with Middle Eastern ingredients at many large markets and Trader Joe's. Conversely, if you can't find it, you can make it. See link in the ingredients list.
When you taste for seasoning, you may wish to add a bit of honey or agave nectar if you prefer a less tangy vinaigrette.
Try alongside Instant Pot Mexican Pulled Pork or wrap in a tortilla for a light meal!
Macronutrients are an approximation only from MyFitnessPal.com. The calories may be lower as amount of vinaigrette is more than enough for this salad.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 160 Total Fat: 8g Carbohydrates: 18g Protein: 4g